When you first see the sun glint off a big set of antlers, or the swollen neck of an old rutting buck, what happens to you? Certainly there is excitement, and certainly there is anticipation of how the drama will play out.
For many (myself included), the biggest emotion is fear — fear that I’ve come this close yet he might still, somehow, get away. That he might see, smell or hear me, that I might miss the slam-dunk shot.
Like a mathematical equation, the fear factor increases exponentially the bigger the animal’s antlers are — A (how close he is) + B (how big he is) = C (how fast your heart beats, hands tremble, and knees knock.) The fear is called many things, but mostly we know it as buck fever.
The thing about the fear is, it is in all of us. Doesn’t really matter how much you have deer hunted, or how many you have killed, or how many have gotten away from you. It is as big a part of the game as sighting-in your rifle or bow, practicing your shooting, picking the right stand site. It’s an adrenaline rush like no other, and it affects us all differently.
You would think that the more experience you get shooting deer, the less of a factor the fear would become. I have been fortunate in my life that I have had a fair number of chances at some pretty nice animals. How, then, do you explain the fact that every time I decide to take a fat doe for the freezer, my legs start quivering, my hands shake and my eyes water? For me, it seems, when it is time to shoot an animal, size definitely does not matter. I get the fear all the same.
The worst the fear ever got to me was on a dark, blustery, rainy morning 20-some years ago in Illinois. A monster buck had a hot doe in a bare field, then took her down into a wooded gully. I got upwind and made a stalk, setting up in the narrow funnel 80 yards from the deer when they started my way. I had no place to go so I hid as best I could, and when that buck popped out over a small rise 15 steps away I never saw the thin string of berry vines that caught my arrow, sending it over his right shoulder. I shook like a leaf for an hour after that. By the way, a shotgun hunter killed him later; he scored 193 and change. I will never forget it as long as I live.
Here’s another example. During the early season in 2013 I was hunting along the Cimarron River in Oklahoma on a great piece of land. The weather was unseasonably hot and windy, and the deer just were not moving much. Then, late one evening, two nice bucks showed themselves along the edge of a narrow line of cedars. I first saw them pop out at about 300 yards, and immediately my left leg started twitching. The pair took their sweet time, and as the timer inside my head kept telling me they had to get with it or they would never make it before shooting light waned, both legs started doing the Disco Duck. They took a trail past my tree at 41 yards, and when they paused to nibble, for some reason my legs steadied up and I was able to draw my bow and take the largest of the pair through both lungs. But I had to stay seated for a few minutes to collect myself before I climbed down.
I am not quite sure what to do about all this. I love practicing with my guns and bows, and by the time deer season rolls around I have a ton of confidence in my shooting. I try to spend as much time in the woods as I can all year round so it is as familiar to me as my backyard. I am meticulous about setting stands so that I am well hidden, and I always keep the wind right.
But deer season is now upon us. All that practice and preparation have led all of us to this point. It’s time to see if all the hard off-season work will pay off. Lady Luck will smile on a fortunate few, those lucky enough to have a chance at a buck with some serious bone on his head. Regardless, we’ll all be on stand on pins and needles, knowing that any second it could happen to us.
And then the fear will come.
Personally, I like the fear. It means that I have done everything right, made the right moves, the proper decisions to get into position, and I am close. It will make time slow down and force me to focus. It means that I am ready.
What’s it like for you?